Dear Organizational Psychology MA Students,
When my sons Javier and Mateo were 4 and 1, my husband and I took them to spend a day at West Point along with my Social-Organizational Psychology faculty colleagues and their families. The 2007-2008 ELDP cohort had invited us for a football game and tailgate party. They had very thoughtfully paired each faculty member with an individual ELDP student who acted as our personal host and ambassador. My host, Major Casey Randall, was assigned to me, in part, I think because he also had young sons. Major Randall, his wife, and children showed us the best time that day. We spent the morning relaxing in their home, enjoying a delicious breakfast spread, where my little guys feasted on kid-friendly snacks and juice boxes and played with the Randall boys on the front lawn. (That meant my husband and I could sit down to eat breakfast, a rare treat for us in those years.) Javier and Mateo were enchanted by Casey's sons. They were older than ours, maybe 7 and 9 at the time; I can't quite remember. But, they were old enough to be "big kids" and in the eyes of our boys, that made them awesome. Plus, they were awesome. They shared their toys and their treats generously; they played all sorts of games with my sons; and they had every variety of sports gear (Javier's favorite). They even kindly tolerated Mateo's toddling around them randomly grabbing balls and toys and getting in their way.
In the afternoon, our family went on a personal guided tour of the West Point campus. We then attended the Army football game and watched while a soldier jumped out of a plane and parachuted onto the field to deliver the ball at the game's start. Javier's face clearly showed that this was the single greatest thing he had ever witnessed in his life, bar none. (I think that may still be true.) After the game ended, we left the stadium together with the hordes of other fans. Casey's sons clambered up onto a short wall alongside the exit ramp, getting a better view of the dispersing crowds and enjoying walking above all the adults. Javier tried to climb up too, but at 4, he wasn't tall enough to manage it on his own. Casey caught his older son's eye and quietly told him, "Set the example." Casey's son quickly climbed down and gave Javier a boost so he, too, could enjoy the superior vantage point. My son was delighted with his attention and the camaraderie of the moment.
I have replayed that image in my mind many times since then and tried to emulate what Casey modeled for me, and his son for my son. The whole day, really, was an example for me - of gracious hosting, of a family warmly extending itself to near strangers, of the gift of small kindnesses, of the joy of children's delight in parachutes, football and each other, but, also, surely, of leadership. Over the years, I have thought of that day often and I have tried my best to "set the example."
Javier is 15 now and he and I were in the audience for Michelle Obama's Brooklyn stop on her Becoming book tour this month. The event was in the Barclays Center and its 19,000 seats were sold-out. Looking around at our fellow attendees it was clear that this was an event that moms took their daughters to, but not their sons. We saw many groups that looked like grandmas, moms and daughters in the various sections that surrounded ours, lots of groups of women friends, some men, here and there attending with women companions, but we spotted only one other boy in the crowd. There were thousands of girls and women of all colors, just nearly no boys, of any race.
Mrs. Obama was impressive - whip-smart, reflective, frank, funny, warm, relaxed (how?!) and completely engaging. She spoke for almost two hours about her marriage and her daughters, about her journey partnering with former President Obama in his political career, about life in the White House, her happy childhood, being an enthusiastic and diligent student, and later, lawyer, and her hopes for America's future. In describing her life, she touched on times when she experienced racism and sexism and used those as moments to encourage the audience to help others, to be empowered, to work for change, to stay hopeful.
Mrs. Obama echoed her last public remarks as First Lady when she said, "I want our young people to know that they matter, that they belong. So, don't be afraid. You hear me, young people? Don't be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered. Empower yourself with a good education. Then get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of your boundless promise. Lead by example with hope, never fear."
Driving back to Manhattan with Javier after the event, we talked in the car about how much fun we'd had and how great it had been to be there; how riveting Mrs. Obama was, how inspiring, hilarious, and poignant. I mentioned to him that it felt painful to me to be white at those moments when Mrs. Obama discussed the blatant racism she and her family have experienced repeatedly over her lifetime. Javier said, "Yeah, for sure. It also felt hard to be a white boy, Mom." We talked a little about racism and being white and sexism and being male and Javier finally said, "I'm just glad my friends know I try hard to be an ally."
"Yes," I thought. "Set the example."
I think of the inauguration of TC's 11th president this month when President Bailey said, "Everyone who walks through [TC's] doors should feel their contributions and perspectives are valued - that they're part of an intellectual community, working with people they trust and respect."
I think of the innumerable requests I have made to both Professor Sam Liu and Professor Bill Pasmore over the years asking one or the other or both to teach an extra section, meet with students, host a career event, attend a program party, network with alums, help me in hiring new adjuncts, share their expertise in business, consulting, research, and more. Their response to these requests has always been, "Sure."
I think of Purva Chopra's tireless work as OHDCC's president to strengthen and enrich our Organizational Psychology community with the help of her leadership team and the OHDCC membership. In our many meetings, Purva is unfailingly skilled, creative and hopeful.
These leaders: Major Randall, Mrs. Obama, President Bailey, Professor Liu, Professor Pasmore, Purva Chopra and so many more of you - of us - set the example.
I will try to do the same.
Wishing each of you a winter break filled with joy and peace. I very much look forward to seeing you in 2019.